Politics & Government

Online vote tracker shines light on legislators

  • Pa. legislative votes link
  • "How do we follow votes in the state legislature?"

    I hear that question time and again, and each time I explain that the votes are not posted online for everyone to see, and news organizations at the Capitol do not compile them for distribution.

    It's not like the Roll Call reports for Congress that run Mondays in the Centre Daily Times during session weeks in Washington, D.C. We receive those from a provider, Thomas Voting Reports, to share with you.

    We have no option like that in Harrisburg, but we now have a way to let you follow key legislative votes online.

    Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1992, has unveiled a legislative tracking system for Pennsylvania that records major votes taken by state representatives and senators.

    The system, the first of its kind nationally to compile state votes, is now complete for 2006 and will record future key votes.

    Voters can search by bill number or category on the Project Vote Smart Web site, where there is access to floor votes and the full text of the bills.

    Readers will find a link to Project Vote Smart on CentreDaily.com, taking you right to the voting reports every day.

    The actual Web site is www.vote-smart.org.For a direct link to Pa. legislative votes, click here.

    We're pleased to offer this, and we're pleased to work with Project Vote Smart as a newspaper partner.

    I've participated in discussions with Pennsylvania journalists and political scientists to identify past key votes for the Montana-based organization, and I know the effort put into this.

    Now, to have it fully operating and online at a time when the General Assembly still doesn't post its votes is a big step for Pennsylvanians.

    "Many state legislatures' Web sites are confusing and hard to use," said Colleen Candrl, director of Project Vote Smart's key votes program.

    "A voter has to know exactly what bill number to search for and really dig through the pages of the state House and Senate journals. Project Vote Smart has eliminated these hassles so that Pennsylvania citizens can easily understand the meaning of legislation and find out how their own legislators voted."

    We've identified the need for online posting of legislative votes in the Brighter Pennsylvania campaign of the state's newspapers. As of Friday, 135 candidates had signed onto the eight-step campaign to open state records and government overall to all Pennsylvanians.

    We'll continue to report on Brighter Pennsylvania, but with Project Vote Smart's work, we're able to bring some badly needed sunshine to the legislature now.

    Readers from 80 countries visited CentreDaily.com on Monday alone. Yes, 80 countries, from Canada to Zimbabwe, from France to New Zealand.

    Unusual? Not quite. A check Tuesday and Wednesday showed visitors from 75 and 84 countries, respectively.

    I'm not sure what they all read, but this past week saw steady, near-record Web traffic for Penn State news and sports and Centre County news and sports, delivered in our stories, blogs and online extras and by our photographs.

    There now are 51 blogs and question-and-answer forums on CentreDaily.com, and several are maintained by community members and organizations. Examples are blogs by the Public Issues Forum of Centre County, overseen by Nancy Kranich; The Runaround by area runners Marty Mazur, Tara Murray and Mike Casper; and From Glory Past by Ken Hickman, of the Penn State All-Sports Museum.

    Among the blogs are five galleries that allow readers to post their own photos, including the popular pets blog that now features 192 cats, dogs and other pets special to our Web visitors.

    These blogs hit 14,956 page views collectively on Monday, a one-day record, and they often exceed 10,000 page views a day.

    Have an idea for the Web? Just let me know. We're always expanding, and we have big plans in future months when we move to a new McClatchy Web platform.

    Here's an invitation to join the world community on Centre Daily.com, for a day or every day. Check out the online extras while you review legislative votes.

    As always, please contact me with concerns you have about anything in the Centre Daily Times or on the Web site.

    Executive Editor Bob Heisse can be reached at 231-4640 or bheisse@centredaily.com. His blog, Back in Happy Valley, is on the Web site.